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Calvin, John (1509–64)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-K010-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 16, 2024, from

Article Summary

John Calvin, French Protestant reformer and theologian, was a minister among Reformed Christians in Geneva and Strasbourg. His Institutes of the Christian Religion (first edition 1536) – which follows the broad outline of the Apostles’ Creed and is shaped by biblical and patristic thought – is the cornerstone of Reformed theology.

Calvin’s religious epistemology links self-knowledge and knowledge of God. He identifies in humans an innate awareness of God, which is supported by the general revelation of God in creation and providence. Because sin has corrupted this innate awareness, Scripture – confirmed by the Holy Spirit – is needed for genuine knowledge of God. Scripture teaches that God created the world out of nothing and sustains every part of it. Humanity, which was created good and with free will, has defaced itself and lost significant freedom due to its fall into sin. Calvin sees Christ the mediator as the fulfilment of the Old Testament offices of prophet, priest and king.

Calvin insists that God justifies sinners on the basis of grace and not works, forgiving their sins and imputing Christ’s righteousness to them. Such justification, received by faith, glorifies God and relieves believers’ anxiety about their status before God. On the basis of his will alone, God predestines some individuals to eternal life and others to eternal damnation.

Calvin dignifies even ordinary occupations by seeing them as service to God. He recognizes the distinction between civil government and the Church, although he says that government should protect true worship of God and Christians should obey and support their government. Calvin’s thought was dominant in non-Lutheran Protestant churches until the eighteenth century and has enjoyed a resurgence since the mid nineteenth century.

Citing this article:
Feenstra, Ronald J.. Calvin, John (1509–64), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-K010-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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